28/12/2014 21:26 GMT | Updated 27/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Cash-Grabbing Catholics

My family, I am sure like many families, has certain charming eccentricities to its way of life. Like when my mother bursts into my room at 6.30am on Boxing Day 'just to confirm' that we're taking the dog for a walk in the afternoon. Or the Sat Nav I gave as a Christmas present many moons ago, which still lies at the back of a cupboard, dusted with mistrust, whilst good, old-fashioned 'common sense' and handwritten directions continue to get the whole family routinely lost and angry.

I'm also expected to throw away my agnostic ideology against organised religion, and attend Mass. After some minutes of intriguing debate - 'you don't have to be pretentious all the year round, darling. It's Christmas' - I assented, as it became clear Mum wasn't so much worried about saving my soul as she simply wanted to be seen in public with her son.


In the end we didn't even get to sit together as Christmas to the Catholic church is much like Black Friday is to Walmart, and they'd reserved large swathes of seating, presumably for all those with Speedy Boarding passes to Heaven. Or, you know, actual Catholics - which I suppose in their catechism amounts to much the same thing.

I won't indulge myself in my own personal problems with the Mass, how the language sounds to my ear a lot like lines Christopher Lee should be spouting whilst dancing around a windswept island in The Wicker Man ('It is right to give Him thanks and praise'), because I'll probably come across exactly as I am. A man who vehemently railed against his indoctrinal upbringing mid-teens when he realised his homosexuality made him, in the Dr Eckleburg eyes of the church, a sinner.

But I've mellowed with age, like a good sherry, and agnosticism is about the truth of an afterlife being unknowable. It's not my place to criticise 89-year-old Doris for taking comfort from her lifelong faith; no one wants to be a Dawkins-like dickhead. Incidentally, even before the bonkers rape Tweets, I had to unfollow Richard Dawkins on Twitter one Christmas years ago when he took up the whole of my newsfeed manically re-Tweeting people having received his books as presents.

What you'd hope though is that if there is a God, he'd be kind, with a totes lolz GSOH and enjoy listening to Rihanna albums, or like in Dogma when He turns out to be Alanis Morissette. But that kind of God can't be the God of Mass. Because that God can't shame people into being exhorted of their money in very real life circumstances.

A good majority of the heads assembled had grey hair. Evidently some Machiavellian mind had decided that closed donation boxes at the back of the church weren't raking in enough profit, and therefore open offertory baskets were to be passed around the congregation. Hopefully all the pensioners in that hall were comfortably well-off enough to afford parting with their pounds, it just seemed a little off that a system had been designed where everybody around Doris could see exactly how much she valued her Church. Not that I think any truly good Christian would actually judge her, but it's insidiously using the psychological panopticon of other people's eyes to affect her own judgement.

What's perhaps most tragic is that she of course imagines the money is going to a good, charitable cause. I remember from my own childhood the printed CAFOD newsletters, accompanied by an image of a famine-stricken African orphan. But until 2010 the Catholic Church has been staunchly anti-contraception, and even today, with the fairly radical Pope Francis, their stance is still wreathed in murky confusion. Apparently the Church is one of the biggest aid-givers to those living with AIDS in the world, but as long as people continue to be infected with HIV/AIDS because of their ineffectual teachings, how can we claim this cause is just?

[The Catholic Church] has not been invited to send a representative to this year's United Nations run International Conference on AIDS.

- Aids in Africa: The Catholic Response

Money burns power, and any institution understands it, particularly one as long-standing and as slenderman-finger meddling in its subjects' private lives as Catholicism.

Another uneasy element of the mass for me was the shamelessly deliberate reaching out to young children in its middle, with chocolate gifts and tales of the Little Lord Jesus. But then I take some comfort from knowing I underwent this attempt at indoctrination, including attending a Catholic primary school, and look how I turned out:


If you have a faith, enjoy it, but it's all we can do to ensure a body representing either our faith or ourselves does good.